As temperatures from coast to coast are climbing upward, so are retailers' sales this summer.
Supermarket executives across the country contacted by SN reported that volume is exceeding their expectations, fueled by an aggressive promotional stance by many operators.
Retailers cited gains in seasonal items ranging from ice cream to cold beverages during a period that has been oppressively hot in many sections of the country. Particularly satisfying to merchandisers is that revenue advances were storewide. The gains included sectors such as frozen entrees, produce, takeout deli items and barbecue meats. On the nonfoods side, strong sellers included suncare lotions and fans.
Among companies citing strong results were Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass.,
and Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas.
At Wakefern, a retailer-owned cooperative and the wholesale merchandising arm for ShopRite supermarkets in five Northeast states, competitive pricing for retail customers has been producing strong results, said Thomas Infusino, chairman and chief executive officer.
"The whole store is doing well," Infusino said of Wakefern's retail customers' operations. "The warehouse numbers are up considerably,"
Dean Janeway, president and chief operating officer, said sales trends have been good since the end of April. "We try to keep our fingers crossed because the summertime is always a questionable time for us because a lot of people are away on vacation, but so far this year's been a good year," Janeway said.
Wakefern has been emphasizing good deals on traditional summer purchases such as meat, ice cream and beverages. The competitive pricing has helped maintain good traffic at a time when stores might otherwise be drawing fewer customers.
"Let's face it: your rent is the same, your overhead remains the same, so if your buying drops off, your costs just go up so we do everything we can so that we retain our volume," Infusino told SN.
Bernie Rogan, corporate public relations director for Shaw's Supermarkets, said the company is very pleased with its summer sales trends.
"We're experiencing excellent sales right now. They're way beyond projections," he told SN.
Produce and soft drinks have been selling especially well, Rogan said. "We've done very well with our own Shaw's cola. We rank No. 2 next to Coke with our own label cola."
Sales are up about 8% for the summer at Steele's Markets, Fort Collins, Col., said Russ Kates, president and chief financial officer.
"Our meat distribution has increased quite a bit. Steaks are selling quite well. We've gotten pretty aggressive on our meat prices so that brings them in. Our wedding cake business has really taken off and that's about a $200 or $300 ring and that helps." Deli items are so popular that Steele's features four or five different products each week. Bug sprays have also been popular because the area's hot, wet weather has led to a proliferation of insects, Kates said.
J.L. Williams, president of Minyard Food Stores, said his company is having one of the best summers ever. "Normally it slacks off a little in June, July and August -- many people go to cooler places so we don't usually have large sales increases during the summer. But this year we are having larger increases than we expected. Because it's been so good, we feel like it's going to continue right through August."
Hot dogs and ice cream are featured every week during the summer, and they have been selling well, Williams said.
"We sell a lot of the deli lunch meats, a lot of ham and turkey. We sell a lot of suntan lotion because of the intense heat down here." he said.
G&R Felpausch Co., Hastings, Mich. is also experiencing sales above the year-ago figures.
Roger Jones, vice president of marketing and public relations, said red meat is selling well, along with traditional picnic items.
"We've had good summer weather and when you have good summer weather, the deli items go well, the entrees with salads, the cold cuts, the beverages, snacks and what we carry in [general merchandise]. This is the time of year when we'll do a better job on the red meats and steaks and the ground meats for the backyard cookout," he said.
Popular foods-to-go include a cold sandwich packaged with a salad or other fresh produce such as carrots, radishes or celery. Seasonal items like fans and wicker furniture have also been selling well, along with suntan lotion, all types of beverages, salty snacks and produce.
Even in California, where the recession has lingered for much longer than it has in the rest of the country, retailers reported strong increases.
Greg Whitney, director of marketing at Nickel's Payless Stores, Visalia, Calif., noted that consumers seem to be buying more gourmet or "luxury" foods such as high-ticket produce items.
"In California over the last several years, the economy's had some problems but it's starting to look better. There's a little bit more disposable income so they can spend a little bit more when they're shopping," he said.
Although the state's heavy rains affected the availability and pricing of produce earlier in the year, prices seem to have stabilized now and many products are at their peak.
"In the produce departments at this time of year, the selection and quality of the fruits and vegetables is good. Some of the later season crops are coming in that weren't washed out by the rains. Lettuce is a prime one, also some of the artichokes, a lot of the vegetable crops, watermelons and tomatoes and things like that," Whitney said.
Healthy foods are in the spotlight at Trader Joe Co., South Pasadena, Calif., due to a new awareness among consumers about nutritional concerns, said Ira Cohen, vice president of merchandising.
"Our sales are up. We're exceeding our plans and we're very, very happy with our business," he said. Products in motion include low-fat and non-fat cheeses, yogurts, bakery items and salad dressings. Prepackaged salads are also moving.
"The coffee business is strong and running well ahead of last year. Our wine business is extremely strong. We're really taking off on hamburger-type items that are meatless. Our sausages business is good but it's a chicken-and-turkey-type thing as opposed to pork and beef sausages," Cohen said.
Although some retailers would not specifically comment on sales trends, they noted that particular items are selling well in their stores.
Winn-Dixie's Louisville, Ky. division is promoting the convenience of its bakery and deli items, as well as frozen meals.
"There's a little more emphasis on some of the meals from the deli -- the rotisserie chickens, the fried chickens, said marketing director Nelson Rodenmayer. "People don't want to heat up their house so it's easier to stop by and pick up some fried chicken. It's been extremely hot. Any time that the heat goes up, the frozen sales and the ice cream sales go up as well."
Winn-Dixie is now carrying its own brand of fat-free ice cream which it has been promoting in conjunction with National Ice Cream Month. Ice cream accessories, from nuts to toppings, are also selling well.
The popularity of fresh vegetables, herbs and pastas led in-house home economists at Byerly's, Edina, Minn., to create special recipes for barbecuing, said Tracy Wiese, advertising and communications manager.
"Minneapolis has had a wave of very hot weather so people are looking for fast, easy meals and our stores have been doing wonderful things to respond to that, including the home economists developing special grilling recipes and also a whole chart that has to do with just grilling fresh vegetables," she told SN.
The recipes are published in the company's complimentary monthly magazine, which also includes nutritional tips and information on in-store happenings.
Only one retailer reported somewhat depressed sales: Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa. In a region where business is dependent on the farming economy, the spring rains that damaged crops also hurt local businesses.
"We did have a wet spring so that got things off to a slow start but sales are picking up now to their normal summer pace," said Ruth Mitchell, director of communications. "There weren't picnics and boating and all those kinds of things where people come in and buy steaks and charcoal and beer and all those outing kinds of things. Since midway through June, the rains cleared out and the farmers are getting caught up now."
Hy-Vee is pushing its perishables departments. She noted that lettuce was selling well and that Hy-Vee had featured Driscoll strawberries in a recent advertisement.